×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Pitches Broadcasters on ‘Once-In-a-Lifetime’ Chance to Auction Spectrum

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said Thursday that TV stations have a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to sell off their spectrum as part of plans to auction off airwaves for wireless use.

Wheeler’s hard-sell remarks at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., come as broadcasters express reservations about participating in the incentive auction — at least until they have more information on how it will work. The incentive auction, to be held in mid-2015, is intended to free up spectrum that will then be auctioned off for wireless use. But the changes are expected to remake the channel lineup in many markets, as stations that participate would go out of business or share their spectrum with other license holders.

“I cannot remember a point in history when it has been simpler, safer or more profitable for an incumbent service provider to take advantage of new technology,” Wheeler said, according to his prepared remarks. “Typically, new technology plows under the old business models; in this case, however, the FCC is overseeing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for profitable repurposing of an important business activity.”

Wheeler said that stations that participate stand to “walk off with a big check from selling their old spectrum,” as they will share in the government proceeds of the auction.

Nevertheless, many detail remain to be worked out, including whether restrictions will be placed on the participation of major telcos AT&T and Verizon in bidding for the available spectrum. Wheeler said that more information “will be forthcoming in the next few months.”

“That this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is not hyperbole,” he said. “The rebanding associated with this auction is hard enough; when it is done, the ability to do it again will be virtually nil. There will not be another round of broadcast incentive auctions.”

In December, Preston Padden, representing an organization of about 70 stations that have expressed interest in participating, warned that the FCC doesn’t have ƒ›Š‹‰ƒ’’‘ƒ…Š‹‰Š‡…‹‹…ƒŽƒ••ƒ›Š‹‰ƒ’’‘ƒ…Š‹‰Š‡…‹‹…ƒŽƒ••”anything approaching the critical mass” of station volunteers to give up their spectrum and make the auction successful.

Wheeler, making his first visit to Silicon Valley since he was confirmed as chairman, once again expressed his support for the FCC’s Net neutrality rules, passed in 2010 but facing the threat that they will be struck down by D.C. circuit court judges.

The issue surfaced earlier this week when AT&T announced a new mobile offering in which subscribing companies pay for the bandwidth when a subscriber accesses their app or website. Such a “sponsored” bandwidth offering has already raised the hackles of digital rights orgs, which contend that it may violate Net neutrality principles that otherwise apply to wired Internet connections.

Wheeler, however, noted that the FCC’s Net neutrality rules “did not discourage this type of two-sided market for mobile uses.” The FCC passed stricter rules for wired Internet providers than mobile providers “based in part on the premise” that there were more consumer choices in the wireless sphere, Wheeler said.

“This seems to me to be the right approach,” Wheeler said. “It may well be that the kind of offering AT&T has announced enables increased competition and increased efficiency, both things that benefit consumers. It is not the sort of thing that should be prohibited out of hand. But, again, history instructs us that not all new proposals have been benign. There has to be some ability on the part of government to oversee, to assess and, if warranted, to intervene.”

More Biz

  • Capitol Music Group Names Amber Grimes

    Capitol Music Group Names Amber Grimes Senior VP of Global Creative

    Amber Grimes has been named to the newly-created position of Senior Vice President of Global Creative for Capitol Music Group, it was announced today by Chairman & CEO Steve Barnett, to whom Grimes will report. According to the announcement, in her new position, Grimes will be integrally involved in formulating and executing the company’s global [...]

  • Kevin Hart

    Why Kevin Hart's Mea Culpa Was Too Little, Too Late (Opinion)

    Forgive me if this sounds trite or preachy, but the importance of owning up to our mistakes cannot be overstated. Denials, silence, cover-ups, repudiation — all are unacceptable. Media outlets around the globe, including ours, wrote about how Kevin Hart initially took no responsibility for having posted disgusting homophobic tweets years ago that resurfaced when [...]

  • Annie Lennox, Chrissie Hynde, Industry Execs

    Annie Lennox, Chrissie Hynde, Industry Execs Sign Anti-Brexit Letter

    Annie Lennox, Chrissie Hynde, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, Paloma Faith, Ed Sheeran manager Stuart Camp and Grammy/Emmy award-winning film composer David Arnold and several leading UK music industry bodies are among the signees of a letter drafted by the new organization Music4EU, stating that Brexit “represents a significant threat to the UK’s music industry” and [...]

  • Kevin Hart Oscars Gay Tweet Controversy

    What Public Figures Should Learn From the Kevin Hart Oscars Debacle (Guest Column)

    When social media erupted over Kevin Hart’s anti-gay tweets from years ago, many in the media and the entertainment industry believed he would immediately apologize, LGBTQ people would critique but ultimately accept his mea culpa, and the comedian would go on to host the Academy Awards. If offenders make a commitment to do better, their [...]

  • Bob Bakish Variety Cover Story

    Inside Bob Bakish's Aggressive Turnaround Plan for Viacom

    Bob Bakish was days into his job as CEO of Viacom in late 2016 when he began convening meetings with senior executives to execute a triage effort to save the once-mighty media giant. Paramount Pictures had just posted a $445 million annual loss. Viacom’s cable networks were in danger of being dropped by major distributors [...]

  • Craig Hunegs WB

    Craig Hunegs to Exit Warner Bros. TV Group and Digital Networks (EXCLUSIVE)

    After nearly 25 years in the Warner Bros. family, Craig Hunegs is exiting his post as head of business for Warner Bros. TV Group and president of the studio’s digital networks wing. Hunegs said he has been discussing his exit with Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Kevin Tsujihara for the past several months. At a time of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content